Published Oct 11, 2012Fortunately, most youths with a moderate passion for film and a mediocre knowledge of the subject choose to go to film school, unknowingly receiving an education not so much in making films, but in learning how not to indulge in their pretences and tenuous whimsies.
Unfortunately, in the case of Brandon Cronenberg, his father is one of the greatest living directors, which will add microscopic scrutiny to his work. But more so it grants him the freedom to make something like Antiviral, a work that is as indulgent and pretentious as it is laughably superficial.
Taking a chapter, or Coles Notes overview, of his pa's pre-eXistenZ work, he posits the standard bleak future – where everyone is sad and everything is monochromatic – giving us a celebrity culture gone mad ,with people buying the various viruses that have afflicted their favourite straw-head actors. In fact, the film opens with a young man (Douglas Smith, from Big Love) having herpes graphically injected into his upper-lip by the twitchy, disease-hocking Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones).
With excess shots of needles piercing skin, herpes sores and other bodily mutilations (thanks, Cronenberg Senior) taking up most of the running time, Syd gets a gig taking a mystery illness from superstar Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), which he promptly injects into himself, in part for smuggling purposes, but mostly because he's keen on collective celebrity delusions as well. For the rest of the movie, he runs around bleeding on the ground and getting rashes while various baddies try to steal the virus.
Implicitly, there is something intriguing, albeit undeveloped, about the central premise of collective cultural superhero delusions exacerbated by illness and mutation of the body. But Cronenberg Jr.'s take on the subject is little more than a broad condemnation followed by an abundance of shock and gore tactics, with the occasional arty dream insert. There's very little to contemplate or consider while the surprisingly formulaic plot races to its inevitable, predetermined conclusion.
Moreover, the entire thing is lethargically paced and devoid of tension, leaving grotesquery to occupy the vacuum of cheap sets and shallow ideas presented on screen. Ostensibly, this is like any number of early undergraduate student films: smug, portentous and dreadfully immature. (Alliance)